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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

183 It appears all the Gipsies


[183] It appears all the Gipsies, male as well as female, who perform ceremonies for their tribe, carry long staffs. In the Institutes of Menu, page 28, it is written: "The staff of a priest must be of such length as to reach his hair; that of a soldier to reach his forehead; and that of a merchant to reach the nose."

[184] That I might distinctly understand the Gipsy, when he described the manner of crossing and wheeling round the corners of the horse, a common sitting-chair was placed on its side between us, which represented the animal lying on the ground.

The husband may take another wife whenever he pleases, but the female is never permitted to marry again.[185] The token, or rather bill of divorce, which she receives, must never be from about her person. If she loses it, or attempts to pass herself off as a woman never before married, she becomes liable to the punishment of death. In the event of her breaking this law, a council of the chiefs is held upon her conduct, and her fate is decided by a majority of the members; and, if she is to suffer death, her sentence must be confirmed by the king, or principal leader. The culprit is then tied to a stake, with an iron chain, and there cudgelled to death. The executioners do not extinguish life at one beating, but leave the unhappy woman for a little while, and return to her, and at last complete their work by despatching her on the spot.

style="text-align: justify;"> [185] Bright, on the Spanish Gipsies, says: "Widows never marry again, are distinguished by mourning-veils, and black shoes made like those of a man; no slight mortification, in a country where the females are so remarkable for the beauty of their feet." It is most likely that _divorced female Gipsies_ are confounded here with _widows_.--ED.

I have been informed of an instance of a Gipsy falling out with his wife, and, in the heat of his passion, shooting his own horse dead on the spot with his pistol, and forthwith performing the ceremony of divorce over the animal, without allowing himself a moment's time for reflection on the subject. Some of the country-people observed the transaction, and were horrified at so extraordinary a proceeding. It was considered by them as merely a mad frolic of an enraged Tinkler. It took place many years ago, in a wild, sequestered spot between Galloway and Ayrshire.

This sacrifice of the horse is also observed by the Gipsies of the Russian Empire. In the year 1830, a Russian gentleman of observation and intelligence, proprietor of estates on the banks of the Don, stated to me that the Gipsies in the neighbourhood of Moscow, and on the Don, several hundred versts from the sea of Asoph, sacrificed horses, and ate part of their flesh, in the performance of some very ancient ceremony of idolatry. They sacrifice them under night, in the woods, as the practice is prohibited by the Russian Government. The police are often detecting the Gipsies in these sacrifices, and the ceremony is kept as secret as possible. My informant could not go into the particulars of the Gipsy sacrifice in Russia; but there is little doubt that it is the same which the tribe performed in Scotland. In Russia, the Gipsies, like those in this country, have a language peculiar to themselves, which they retain as a secret among their own fraternity.

As regards the sacrificing of horses by the Gipsies of Scotland, at the present day, all that I can say is that I do not know of its taking place; nor has it been denied to me. The only conclusion to which I can come, in regard to the question, is that it is in the highest degree probable that, like their language and ceremony of marriage, it is still practised when it can be done. In carrying out this ceremony, there is an obstacle to be overcome which does not lay in the way of that of marriage, and it is this: Where are many of the Tinklers to find a horse, over which they can obtain a divorce? The difficulty with them is as great as it is with the people of England, who must, at a frightful expense, go to no less than the House of Lords to obtain an act to separate legally from their unfaithful partners.[186] The Gipsies, besides being generally unable or unwilling to bear the expense of what will procure them a release in their own way, find it a difficult matter, in these days, to steal, carry off, and dispose of such a bulky article as a horse, in the sacrifice of which they will find a new wife. I am not aware how they get quit of this solemn and serious difficulty, beyond this, that a Gipsy, a native of Yetholm, informed me that some of his brethren in that colony knock down their _asses_, for the purpose of parting with their wives, at the present day.[187]


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